Xeni on The Madeleine Brand radio show: Russia's "Gaga-esque Gagarin Glitzothon" (audio)


I joined Madeleine Brand Show guest-host Alex Cohen today for a radio segment on my recent trip to Moscow with Miles O'Brien and his documentary crew, on the occasion of the 50 year anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's first space flight. On April 12, 1961, aboard the Vostok 3KA-3, Gagarin became the first human ever to venture into space.

On the show today, we talked about the crazy Cosmonaut's Day celebration we attended inside the Kremlin; what space tourists do in space; why NASA has bought up seats on the Soyuz as our shuttle program ends, and we also chatted about weird Russian strawberry sushi and the amazing Soviet time capsule that is the Moscow metro. [Listen here, or download MP3 here].

Miles shot video of the military choir finale, with breakdancing cosmonaut cosplay kids. That video is embedded above, or here on YouTube. The good stuff starts around 1:39 in.

And below, a translated video of Russian President Medvedev's speech at the Kremlin event.

His speech begins around 2:00 into the video. Of note: under his administration, Russia has increased space spending, and is building a new cosmodrome in Russia (so they won't have to lease space at the Baikonur cosmodrome in neighboring Kazakhstan). This, as the US slashes NASA's budget and ends the shuttle program.

I ask you, fellow countrymen: where's our space gala and astronaut pride?

(photo and video in this post courtesy Miles O'Brien)


  1. What do you mean the good stuff starts at 1:39 in? I’d say it starts at 0:01 in. Laser space angels and bungee dancers? The Glorious Russian People’s Triumph of Space Exploration Cossack Dancers? No words…they should have sent a poet.

  2. That was… quite… something.

    I, too, wanted more bungee dancers. Also, I kept hoping for Jean Michel Jarre to step forward and play a laser harp.

    As for the latter half, who knew that Russia had their own Heino?

  3. You get a lot of this kitsch and pomp at Russian official celebrations which they try to invigorate by introducing ‘edgy’ stuff like breakdancing or rapping, but only end up looking like a complete circus. On the other hand, the first minute was really mind-blowing, at least for this place. It really looked like a Shpongle live gig, not a Kremlin gala!
    BTW, Xeni, the Russsian Barry White isn’t one person, it’s a pop choir of ten guys, they mostly sing in restaurants and galas like this one, with a tendency for Jewish songs. Anyway, I posted some details of their song in another post.

    1. Oh wow, thanks, I hadn’t seen that! Yeah I knew it was a choir, but we were having a little fun with that one guy’s voice.

      As an aside, ALL THIS STUFF WAS LIPSYNC’D.

      1. Well of course it was, neither the venue or the whole line-up is suited for a live show because it would simply take too much effort and coordination. There’s been a lot of debate on this, many rock bands and singers at such galas insisted on performing live in the Kremlin’s halls – mostly citing ethical concerns such as ‘we don’t want to fool our fans in the audience’ – but basically were told “Sorry guys, we do like live music too, but it’s just technically not possible”.

        1. The best part of the lipsync issue was when this one performer, last name Anders?, an American? — his number included a saxaphone, and he trots over to where the orchestra is to “rock out” with the guy pretending to play the sax. Only, when he gets there, he realizes there is no such sax guy. So he sort of trots back like nothing happened.

          1. There’s a great episode of Ed Sullivan with The Mamas And The Papas. After Ed introduces them, Cass says, “Roll the tape” and Michelle slowly eats a banana while the song runs.

          2. That’ll be Thomas Anders of Modern Talking. They’ve been MASSIVE here since the late Soviet times, despite the fact that barely anyone knows them these days outside of ex-USSR countries. And since most pop stars in Russia, including those from abroad who tour here, don’t bother with performing live – which their audience doesn’t seem to mind at all – there’s like a million ‘lipsync disaster’ clips on Russian YouTube.

  4. The thing I really liked about the Russian metro systems (Moscow and St Petersburg) was escalators that take you down to the train platforms. They’re incredibly steep and fast; you just have to believe nothing bad will happen when you step onto them.

  5. A good description of the video, except the kids were neither breakdancing, nor cosplaying cosmonauts (baseball cap doesn’t a spaceman make).

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